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Rep. Joe Crowley: FBI Needs To Count Hate Crimes Against Sikhs

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 Members of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin react at a news conference about the tragic shooting at Oak Creek Centennial church in Oak Creek, Wis. on Monday, Aug. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
Members of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin react at a news conference about the tragic shooting at Oak Creek Centennial church in Oak Creek, Wis. on Monday, Aug. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) has for months been advocating that the FBI collect data on hate crimes against Sikh Americans. Sunday's tragedy in Wisconsin, in which six people were killed at a Sikh temple, underscores his push.

The FBI and the Justice Department lump hate crimes against Sikhs together with hate crimes against Muslims -- saying that Sikhs are often targeted by individuals who mistake them as Muslim.

"This is not the first time that Sikhs have been attacked," Crowley, whose New York City district includes parts of Queens and the Bronx, told The Huffington Post in an interview on Monday. "Unfortunately it's been growing consistently, on an ongoing basis. That's what my concern has been."

In April, Crowley and 92 members of the House signed a letter to the Justice Department, urging the FBI to begin collecting data specifically on Sikh Americans. In the past year, Sikhs and their religious institutions have been threatened or attacked in New York, Michigan and Virginia. Two elderly Sikhs were murdered in March 2011.

Four days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a Sikh American gas station owner in Arizona was fatally shot by a killer who mistook him for Muslim because of his turban and his beard.

The Sikh Coalition, the largest U.S. civil rights group for Sikhs, told Reuters it has "received thousands of requests for assistance from members of the community related to employment discrimination, hate crimes and school bullying since the 9/11 attacks." Exactly how many violent incidents have occurred against Sikhs is hard tell, however, without data from the FBI.

"The Justice Department and the FBI have been reaching out to the Sikh American community," said Crowley. "But I believe -- and the community believes -- that they need to take it one step further and collect data as it pertains to the Sikh community, so that they can begin to build the record and maybe come to an understanding about why this is happening."

The FBI did not return a request for comment.

The motive of the Wisconsin shooter, who was killed by police, are still unknown. He was known to be the leader of a white supremacist band, and officials said they are treating the shooting as a "domestic terrorist-type incident."

On Tuesday, Crowley will hold an event with local elected officials and with Sikh Americans at the Shri Guru Ravidass Temple of New York to denounce Sunday's violence and to stand in solidarity with the religious community. Crowley is the co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian-Americans, has traveled to India several times. His district has a significant Sikh American population.

When asked about why there seems to be less press coverage of the Wisconsin shooting than the recent Colorado movie massacre -- not to mention a fair deal of confusion over the Sikh religion -- Crowley said he was "sad."

"Human beings are human beings," he said. "I think the people who were killed in Wisconsin, whether they're Sikh Americans or not, ought to be given the same consideration that is in the other community. I would also suggest that the Sikh American community deserves the attention and focus. Maybe this can be used as a teaching moment for who Sikhs are and what they are -- that they are people, they are hard-working people, very patriotic people as well."

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